Ali founded Artisan Travel so not surprisingly perhaps, he has been here from the very start. During a long career in the travel industry, he has travelled extensively and it was one of those light-bulb-above-the-head moments that suggested to him what would become the defining principle behind Artisan Travel.
One day, whilst cycling through his beloved Northumberland (he’s rarely in the office these days as he is either travelling or cycling which he claims gives him time to “strategise”) it occurred to him that his favourite travel experiences were invariably in the company of locals whilst researching a holiday rather than actually being on holiday.
This doesn’t mean he has an obsession with inspecting hotel bedrooms (believe us, if we had a pound for every hotel room we’ve ever seen!) rather, he much prefers to get under the skin of a destination rather than slavishly follow the well-worn tourist trails. This, he realised, is what happens when we at Artisan Travel set out with local tourism experts to explore the place where they live and work. Basically, they are the guys with the key insider information so we simply listen, learn and strive to pass on the absolute best of any given country to our clients.
Ali’s favourite country is probably Finland and he returns time and time again to the tiny town of Luosto just north of the Arctic Circle. Over the years, he has made some great friends there and enjoys nothing more than dog sledding or snowmobiling or skiing or searching for the Northern Lights or simply eating and drinking with his Finnish chums Jukka and Juha-Pekka (although, with typical British reserve, Ali still struggles with that naked in the sauna malarkey).
Apart from travel, Ali’s great passions are his kids, Led Zeppelin and cycling. He recently successfully completed a challenge to cycle at least 50 miles every day for 50 consecutive days and raised over £6,000 for Breast Cancer Campaign in the process. That is the sort of application and dedication that Ali wants to bring to Artisan Travel because he may not share his bike with you but he’d love to share his knowledge of the destinations in which we operate.
• Snowmobiling with Harriniva's owner Maria Pietikainnen about 10 years ago. It was the first time I'd ever been snowmobiling, racing across frozen lakes, negotiating the tricky trails through the snow.
• Feeding the reindeer at Utsjoki. Wild, rugged and wonderful with no less than three sacred fells, you wouldn't want to get lost if the weather turned bad in the wilderness surrounding Utsjoki. However, joining a local reindeer herder - who knows the terrain like the back of his hand - as he calls in his herd at feeding team is a thought-provoking experience.....how tough are the Sámi people to have lived here with their herds for centuries?
• Simply going for a walk alongside the lake at Saija Lodge. The renowned Finnish author Kalle Päätalo hailed from these parts and his depiction of life here during the 1930's depression makes the reader feel very, very grateful for our modern day home comforts because life here was a constant struggle. Hence the name of Paatalo's most famous novel "Our Daily bread".
• Lying in a glass igloo under a crystal clear sky and watching the Universe turn above me at Kakslauttanen. If I ever think I'm important, I think of a zillion stars and am very quickly brought back down to earth!
• Driving a team of six huskies across Fell Lapland from Kittila. There's nothing like you and your team speeding across the wilderness terrain with just the swish-swish of your sleds' runners and the panting of your faithful hounds to break the near-perfect silence.
Finland: Harriniva, Jeris, Kittila, Luosto, Kakslauttanen, Utsjoki, Menesjärvi, Saija
Norway: Tromsø, Kirkenes, Karasjok, Alta, Malangen